• Print

Culture and language

The creativity, capacity to absorb different influences, co-existence and tolerance values has shaped a culture that is both national and cosmopolitan.


Catalan culture has developed its own unique and universal identity over the centuries. The innovative flair, creativity, capacity to absorb different influences, co-existence and tolerance values has shaped a culture that is both national and cosmopolitan. Traditionally, art and thought trends seep into Catalonia as a result of the country's geographic location, open to the Mediterranean and European countries, and also due to the leading spirit and attraction created by Barcelona.

Catalan arts exemplify this national and universal vocation. Ramon Llull, Ramon Muntaner and Joanot Martorell made valuable contributions to the consolidation of the Catalan language and European medieval literature. Jacint Verdaguer, Víctor Català and Joan Maragall, in different genres, contributed decisively to the cultural Renaissance of the 19th Century. The 20th Century was very prolific in talents that still have an extensive international dissemination: from Salvador Espriu and Josep Pla to Josep Carner, Mercè Rodoreda, Manuel de Pedrolo, Pere Calders, Jesús Moncada, Pere Gimferrer, Baltasar Porcel, Quim Monzó, Miquel de Palol and Miquel Martí i Pol.

Catalonia has always been an intersection of cultures and influences. Before the consolidation of Catalan and the other Latin languages, the Christians in the country wrote in Latin, the Muslims in Arabic and the Jews in Hebrew. The current bilingualism can be noted in the number of remarkable Catalan writers writing in the Castilian language, such as Eduardo Mendoza, Joan Marsé, Manuel Vázquez Montalbán, Javier Cercas, Enrique Vila-Matas and Carlos Ruiz Zafón.

Similarly, Catalonia set the pace in scenic arts. Àngel Guimerà (born in Santa Cruz de Tenerife) brought international recognition to the Catalan theatre tradition. Other authors to be noted are Josep Maria de Sagarra and Santiago Rusiñol. The National Theatre of Catalonia, inaugurated in 1997, does justice to this tradition of dramaturges, actors and directors, and it adds to the group of symbolic cultural and historical venues such as the Liceu, which is one of the most important opera venues in Europe.

Painting and architecture also form part of the Catalan identity. The architectural modernism of Antoni Gaudí, Josep Puig i Cadafalch and Lluís Domènech i Montaner is currently one of the main tourist attractions, as also are the works of contemporary architects such as Josep Lluís Sert, José Antonio Coderch de Sentmenat, Richard Meiers, Jean Nouvel, Norman Foster, Ricard Miralles/Benedetta Tagliabue, Ricardo Bofill, Rafael Moneo and Santiago Calatrava. The incorporation of the most advanced trends in architecture and design at the hand of recognised architects and young professional adults has made Barcelona the paradigm of modernity and the capital of design.

Portraitist Ramon Casas and modernist Isidre Nonell were precursors of the great Catalan contribution to the International pictorial avant-garde with significant talents such as surrealists Salvador Dalí and Joan Miró, informalist Antoni Tàpies and expressionist Joan Hernández Pijoan. Catalonia, land of welcome, decidedly influenced geniuses such as Pablo Ruiz Picasso, who studied for a time in Barcelona, a city with one of the most primordial museums of the work of this painter from Malaga. The Picasso Museum, together with the Gala-Salvador Dali Foundation in Figueres, is among the most frequented museums all over Catalonia. In addition, Barcelona has the most complete Romanesque art museum in the world, the National Art Museum of Catalonia (MNAC), which has numerous frescos, church and hermit altarpiece and works from the Pyrenees.

Musician Pau Casals, tenor Josep Carreras, soprano Montserrat Caballé, pianist Alícia de Larrocha, scientist Joan Oró, doctors Antoni Puigvert, Josep Trueta, Ignasi Barraquer, Valentí Fuster and Joan Massagué and geniuses from other fields such as clown Charlie Rivel have brought fame to the Catalan culture. The innovative capacity and creativity are still priority features for present day artists, whether in contemporary dance choreographies by Cesc Gelabert, the Fura dels Baus theatre group or scenic arts by Calixto Bieito, originally from Burgos.

The most modern trends coexist in harmony with the most deeply-rooted traditions, some of which, such as the Patum de Berga traditional festival, have been declared intangible heritage of humanity by UNESCO. The popular festivals are a good reflection on how the people of Catalonia have preserved their cultural heritage: the traditional national dance called the 'Sardana' is always present and activities that seemed incredible such as the 'castells' or human towers have been perfected, a tradition of the districts of Tarragona that has spread to other parts of the country.

Did you know that...

On Saint George's Day, on 23 April, Catalonia celebrates the festival of love and culture, symbolised by the rose and book. All of the cities and towns fill stands with books and roses that the citizens give as presents to their loved ones. This Catalan tradition has become very well-known internationally and at the proposal of Catalonia, UNESCO declared 23 April as World Book and Copyright Day.


93.8% of the citizens of Catalonia understand Catalan, the official language along with Spanish and Aranese. To these nearly seven million people that understand Catalan, we can add those from other territories where it is used as the everyday language, particularly the Valencian Community (where it is called 'Valencià'), the Balearic Islands and part of Aragon, the Franja de Ponent (Western Strip). It is the only official language in Andorra and its use extends to the south of France and the city of Alghero, Sardinia. As a result, it is calculated that there are a total of nine million people that speak Catalan and 11 million that understand it. It is therefore situated ahead of 14 official languages of the European Union and it is the ninth most spoken language.

Catalan is the common language used at school and its use is standardising the media, financial world and cultural productions. A survey carried out by the Statistical Institute of Catalonia (IDESCAT) in 2007 indicated that three out of four residents in Catalonia can speak and write Catalan. With regard to Spanish, nearly all citizens understand (98.9%) and speak it (96.4%).

Catalan was established between the 8th and 10th Centuries as an evolution of Latin, as were Spanish, French, Italian and the other Romance languages. Every year, 10,000 titles are edited in Catalan, which is the tenth most translated language in the world and taught in 166 universities.

Did you know that...

The Catalan language is very much alive on the Internet, so much so that CANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) authorised the .cat domain in 2006, which groups the Catalan culture and language community websites together. In just over two years, there were 30,000 domains registered.
Page of a dictionary of Catalan

Catalan is the ninth most spoken language in the European Union.


The passion for seafood and agricultural produce, and the richness and originality of the traditional cuisine are the reason why Catalan cuisine has become one of the most admired on the planet in recent years.

Creativity, ingenuity and daring are the terms often used to describe the Catalan chefs of avant-garde cuisine. These same words serve to qualify many of the combinations of ingredients that form part of the popular cuisine and which today may also seem revolutionary, as is the trend of the Empordà region to combine seafood and agricultural products.

Different forms of cuisine as diverse as rural, seafood and bourgeois are combined in Catalonia, where it is not strange to find dishes from other areas that have become naturally popular.

The first major step to the modernisation of Catalan cuisine, classified in the last century by Ignasi Domènech, was taken by Josep Mercader from Empordà at the beginning of the sixties in the Empordà Motel of Figueres. Very nearby, in the Montjoi cove (Roses), the great revolution that has positioned Catalonia at the centre of the gastronomic world has taken place in recent years. Ferran Adrià, repeatedly declared the best chef in the world, has managed to create a new cuisine language that has become universal from El Bulli Restaurant in Montjoi Cove.

The interest in his creativity has meant that critics and gastronomes have become curious about what the Catalan cuisine has to offer, where the attraction of the cuisine of chefs renowned by the prestigious Michelin guide, such as Carme Ruscalleda, Santi Santamaria and Joan Roca, is complemented with the cuisine of restaurants run by young creative chefs around Catalonia.

Did you know that....

The Book of Sent Soví (1324), an anonymous manual with a hundred recipes, and the Llibre de coch (Book of the Cook) (1520), by Robert de Nola, are authentic treasures for cuisine lovers. In the 20th Century, figures such as Ignasi Domènech, Josep Pla, Nestor Luján and Manuel Vázquez Montalbán contributed greatly to gastronomic literature with their texts on cuisine in Catalonia.
Bread with tomatoes (typical Catalan food)

Creativity, ingenuity and audacity characterize Catalan chefs


History and legend are combined in the source of Catalonia, given that the origin has roots with a real person, adorned with epic features: Guifré el Pelós or Wilfred the Hairy. This nobleman, renowned for his value in battle, is linked to the tradition of the four bars on the flag, marked with his fingers and his own blood on his golden shield. When he died in 897, he was the first Count to create hereditary passage and he left his possessions to the Marca Hispanica or Spanish March. He broke away from the Frankish kings and that gave way to the origin of the House of Barcelona. The Spanish March had been created by the Carolingian Empire as a frontier dividing the territories dominated by Christians and Muslims.

The Crown of Aragon

The ancestry of Guifré el Pelós was the Crown of Aragon, when his destiny was connected to the Kingdom of Aragon due to the dynastic problems of this monarchy. King Alfonso the Battler died without an heir and his kingdom went to the military orders. The will was not honoured and his brother Ramiro II, the Monk took over the throne. He did not have an heir either so in order to ensure succession, he gave his daughter Peronella's hand to the Count of Barcelona, Ramon Berenguer IV, when she was only a year old. The marriage had to wait for another thirteen years as the Church did not permit marriage until the bride was at least fourteen years of age. Alfonso II, the son of Ramon Berenguer IV d'Aragó and Peronella, inherited all of the titles and kingship in 1164 after his father died and his mother was abdicated. In fact, what is historically known as the Crown of Aragon, the United Kingdom and the House of Barcelona began with him.

Expansion in the Mediterranean

With the Catalan Kings, the Crown prospered and expanded in such a way that its territories touched Mallorca, Valencia, Sicilia, Corsica, Sardinia and Naples. That is how the Crown of Aragon became a vitally important military and commercial empire. King Jaume I the Conqueror was especially prominent in this event, an example of the growth of power and development of the Crown along with the detriment of Arab kingdoms. It is remarkable that new territories added on, such as Valencia, maintained their own 'Furs' or Laws. In the 13th Century, Catalonia had one of the best infantries in the world, the Almogàvers, who were even contracted to fight the Turks in Constantinople, where their battle cry could be heard : "Desperta ferro!" (Wake up Iron!).

The book, Consulate of the Sea, was written from the House of Barcelona and Catalan-Aragon marine companies were created, allowing the conquest of the Dukes of Athens and Neopatria in 1380. The House of Barcelona came to an end when Martí l'Humà died in 1410, and the sceptre was passed to the Trastámara dynasty under Ferran. His marriage to Queen Isabel resulted in the union of the Aragon and Castille Kingdoms.

The defeat in 1714

After the Catholic Kings, the Habsburg Dynasty maintained complex relations with the principality. Even though they respected each other’s institutions, the differences with the crown were serious due to the resources reclaimed by the monarchs for their military companies. The misunderstandings came to a head in 1640, in the framework of the European Thirty Years' War, when the war of the Segadors faced French and Castellans on Catalan soil. The conflagration ended the peace in the Pyrenees, which is why Roselló and part of Cerdanya became French territory and were taken away from Catalonia.

After Carles II died without an heir, Felip V, of the Bourbon Dynasty, took the throne of Spain. In 1701, he pledged to the Constitutions, but another claimer, Charles of Austria, joined in the War of Succession. Catalonia took the Austrian side, but in 1714, Barcelona fell and the cities that were not supported by the Bourbons were treated badly. In 1716, the New Plant decree abolished the individual institutions, not Catalan Civil Law.

Catalanism resurges

During the Napoleon wars, Catalonia was temporarily segregated by Bonaparte. In the last third of the 19th Century, there was a great resurgence of Catalanism in all aspects. The result in politics was the Commonwealth, the union of deputations as an institution that represented Catalonia. It did not last long, as in 1923 it was abolished by the dictatorship of Primo de Rivera. The situation changed radically with the Republic and in 1932, the Generalitat Government was restored and the Statute of Autonomy was approved. The Civil War from 1936-1939 and the victory of Franco brought about a long dictatorship, where signs of identity and Catalan institutions were taboo. Democracy brought back the Generalitat, re-established in 1977 with Josep Tarradellas as President. Two years later, Catalonia had a Statute of Autonomy again. The validity of the Statute coincided with one of the greatest economic and social development in Catalonia, and 25 years later, it was considered time to update the basic regulation ruling the country. After a complex revision and administrative process, the new Statute was approved by referendum in 2006.

Did you know that...

Catalonia has one of the oldest parliaments in the world. Cellist Pau Casals made this statement to the Assembly of United Nations in 1971, just before performing his internationally famous song: El Cant dels Ocells: (Song of the Birds )"Catalonia was the largest nation in the world. I will tell you why. Catalonia had the first Parliament, long before England. And it was in Catalonia where there was a 'United Nations' principle. All of the authorities of Catalonia came together in the 11th Century (...) to discuss peace. Yes, in the 11th Century! Peace in the world, because Catalonia was already anti-war, against everything inhuman related to wars. Yes, in the 11th Century. That was Catalonia!".
Pantocrator Church of Sant Climent de Taüll

Pantocrator Church of Sant Climent de Taüll. The history of Catalonia began around the year 900 when Wilfred the Hairy broke away from the Frankish Kings and gave way to the origin of the House of Barcelona.

Atlas Català de la Corona d'Aragó, de l'any 1375

Atlas Català de la Corona d'Aragó, year 1375

National symbols

The Flag

The four bars derived on the flag of Catalonia appears on a seal by Ramon Berenguer IV in 1150, although its mythological origin is also linked to Wilfred the Hairy when, after a battle, Frank King Charles the Bald wiped his fingers in the blood of the nobleman and drew four red bars on his golden shield as an emblem. This set was different from the Counts of Barcelona and, while in some eras the lines were drawn horizontally, they ended up being vertical, which is made official in the Statute of Autonomy of 1979.

Els Segadors: National Anthem

Els Segadors was declared the Catalan national anthem by an Act of the Catalan Parliament in 1993. Based on a popular idyll from the 17th Century, which had been collected by linguist and writer Manuel Milà i Fontanals, the current lyrics are by Emili Guanyavents, who won a competition in 1899 for this purpose by the Catalanist Union, motivating passionate polemics. The music was put to it in 1892 by Francesc Alió, who adapted the melody of an already existing song. The Anthem makes a reference to the blood-stained Corpus Christi, the movement that took place in Barcelona on June, 7th, 1640 and which led to the War of the Segadors, the struggle of the Catalans and the troops of Felip IV. In the text, we can note illusions to the countrymen, the land and to freedom.


National anthem: Els Segadors (12 s.)

National anthem: Els Segadors (1min. 49 s.)

The National Day of Catalonia

The National Day of Catalonia is celebrated on September, 11th and on this day, the Catalan people remember the loss of Catalan freedom and institutions due to the defeat in the War of Succession in 1714. With this commemoration, the desire to conserve the Catalan identity is remembered. When Franco's dictatorship fell, there were great demonstrations for independence on September, 11th. Nowadays, the Diada is the National Day of Catalonia through an Act of Parliament.

Update:  29.04.2016